How did a Hungarian company end up working with such a sports giant brand like Borussia Dortmund? Co-founder and creative director Mark Szegner revealed to us how Pressenger offers a win-win-win situation for the sports industry in an unusual way. Other topics, such as pizza, peace, and the fight against racism, were also discussed.
If you look back to the beginnings, can you recall what exactly motivated you to start your journey with Pressenger?
The idea was born earlier, but we founded the company in 2014 with the aim of delivering the most important information to users in a way that was completely different from ordinary solutions. Based on this idea, we developed a mobile notification system that uses the power of images to ensure that information can be absorbed as quickly as possible since science has already proven that people can process images much faster than read written text.
We have simply taken what was already working on social media, spiced it up with a few clever features and put it in a whole new environment, the notification center of smartphones.
What pillars were already “in your hands” before you successfully launched the concept?
We already had a uniquely developed technology quite early on, but initially, we had a different intention than making notifications better and more unique. We started with the concept of adding a Snapchat like feature – which was very popular at the time – to GSM calls, which allowed the caller to attach extra information to the call and to be displayed on the receiver’s screen. All in all, the basic idea would probably be still relevant today. However, we had to realize that if we would like to dynamically scale this kind of solution, we would need specific resources that were not available in Hungary or even Europe at that time. So, we started thinking about what else we could do with this technology because we knew we had a very interesting solution in our hands. We decided to use this for notifications, in this case, we do not need to convince a million people to use something, we only need to convince a few business clients to send the images to their hundreds of thousands of users. We had the technological foundation, and along the way, we realized how we can monetize it.
What were the crucial points you had to clarify when creating the business model and your value proposition?
Once it was certain that we were going to use our technology in the area of notifications, we knew that we were going to use images because it is a powerful and effective tool for communication. However, we realized that we do not want to do this by letting to send out thousands of pictures with a completely meaningless, spamming strategy. Based on our in-house expertise and desk research data, our conclusion was that it is
the sports industry where we can create a quite unique win-win-win situation: sports clubs can launch a completely new communication channel. It is a much better experience for fans to be notified about their favorite player scoring a goal through a picture than to read about it in a gray box with black text – the application of team colors has great importance in sports anyway. And again, it is favorable for the clubs because practically every surface in sports can be sold to sponsors, for whom digital access is increasingly important. Most fans do not follow their favorite team’s matches in the stadium, and sometimes not even on television, as they are on the go, or doing other activities. We aspired to target these fans in such a way that this emotionally relevant information gets them as best as possible.
Pressenger and co-founder Márk Szegner who didn’t follow the usual business path
How do you remember the business ecosystem of the sports market around 2015? How important was application development regarding the priorities of sports clubs at that time?
Many clubs focused on the emerging social media platforms in sports. It was also typical that a very large part of the attention was still focused on direct investment, players, performance analysis, stadiums and other “on the pitch” innovations. Social media changed this, but we still had to enter this less favourable environment. Only a few clubs used their own applications, but we knew that sooner or later this would change because clubs began to realize that it would be useful to generate a user base for themselves and to keep these people in-house. We had to be patient, but at the same time, we had to start spreading the word about what we do, since for years we have been the only ones who have been providing visual notifications at this level and focus on sports.
What were the initial steps or challenges you encountered when putting the idea into practice – from a technological, human resource and business development point of view?
Within the company, I mostly dealt with the creative side, but I obviously had an insight into the business development problems as well. Exactly for the previous reasons I can say that the challenges were mostly sales related. We had no problems with human resources, since we were a boutique service, we never had to deal with for example 200 new clients applying and someone having to deal with them. Rather than that, we had a completely unique product and we had to convince the market of this so that in terms of business development, they would devote efforts to listening, understanding and working with us.
At Dortmund, both the club and the fans have already fallen in love with the company’s visual notifications.
When did you realize that the concept of Pressenger could actually work, the market needed it, and your idea would be validated by the target group?
There was a period when we received a lot of positive confirmations in a very short time from foreign clients, who usually start working with a Hungarian startup once it has already taken off at home, but for us, it was the other way around. Without having any reference work at home, we started discussions with La Liga, then we started working with Levante, and then we started to cooperate with Microsoft’s department specifically dealing with sports innovation (GSIC). This was the moment when we realized that there are other people besides us who definitely believe that the existence of this project is justified.
How did you acquire Borussia Dortmund to your clientele?
Dortmund organized an in-house pitch event, where we successfully presented our vision on how to make the most exciting moments of the game available to the hundreds of thousands of Dortmund fans who cannot follow the match either in the stadium or in front of the television. When we looked at this in terms of fan engagement metrics, and after calculating the potential sponsorship interest and income as well, it was not a question anymore whether they would work together with us, and the rest is history.
What kind of feedback do you receive from them, regarding your solution?
Neither the club, nor the fans or the sponsors can imagine what it would be like to receive notifications by text again in a gray box. The black and yellow colour combination is very significant for them and the importance of visualization is high, therefore the sponsors are also very satisfied and are increasingly willing to reach deeper into their pockets for the project.
What is your experience about being part of the sportsmarketing ecosystem of such a top-level club like BVB? What can you recommend for other innovative companies, who are aiming to work for this kind of client as well?
In any case, it helps if the product can be presented as simply as possible, but still achieve the greatest potential result. When we were at Dortmund, several startups presented very complex ideas, and while there is certainly a place and a format where these are awarded, it is very difficult to convey more than one key idea during most of these pitch events. That is why we were lucky, because
in the end you cannot come up with anything simpler than our idea: what used to be text is now a picture.
I know that this is difficult to implement in other companies, but you should try to communicate in the simplest way by focusing on the most important functions and features and hope for the best since at the end of the day, the actual mood or motivation of the person sitting at the other end of the table also accounts for 50%. We were very fortunate in this regard at Dortmund.
When collaborating with clubs, how much human and time resources does it take to get inside their ecosystem?
It depends on several factors. Integrating our technology is not a huge amount of work, it takes about 10-15 hours on the club’s developer side. Most of the work is done in relation to the consultation we provide at the same time, which means that we have to assess the size of the club’s user and fan base, understand what kind of messages they may be able to communicate – and filter out the ones that are not necessarily important. If this communication strategy is in place, then we start collecting and automating the visual materials – this may take more time, even 2-3 weeks. After that, it only depends on the graphic solutions we apply to deliver the push messages to the phones.
What other sectors could gain the most advantage from your technology, in terms of creating a new revenue stream & platform?
We try to protect everyone by careful selection, but there are many industries where this important communication concept is already present, so we are open to discuss with everyone. Sports is a universal language, everyone knows what to expect from the other party, so this industry is definitely our flagship. But let’s take a look at another example! Everyone knows the phrase “we eat with our eyes”. With our technology, it is much easier to raise people’s appetite when they see a perfectly composed, steaming, freshly baked pizza in an appealing environment, compared to when they only receive a text notification saying “try our new, delicious pizza”. It is much more likely that I will click on the image since there was already a higher chance of me noticing this banner, so this may be one of the classic examples that we usually mention outside of sports.
How do you see the current trends? What kind of changes have you experienced in the market in the last few years in your industry?
We focus on a change that is coming from the user’s side. People have less and less time and patience to receive information. The market should follow this change, which is why we focus on this. This trend comes at perfect timing for us since we can make a lasting impact precisely by delivering well-thought-out information within a short period of time that can be processed very quickly. We definitely satisfy this need. The part of the market that is willing to adapt its decisions to these trends will sooner or later stumble upon us. We are not specifically a SaaS (software as a service) company, but rather a stylist and consulting house, whose expertise is realized in a very unique technological solution. In fact, the consultation itself constitutes a greater part of our services than the code that runs in the application.
What is the vision? Where do you see the future of Pressenger in the next 2-3 years?
We want to cover the sports industry as much as possible in the shortest possible time because this is where we can create the greatest value for clubs, fans and sponsors. But we are open to finding the right model in other industries as well, to see how they could communicate more effectively. Personally, I would be very happy if the attention-grabbing potential of our technology was also used to deliver extremely important messages affecting everyone, which are thought-provoking or spur people to action, such as global warming, peace, or the fight against racism, etc. Unfortunately, there are many topics where we could achieve an extremely large impact if only a tiny bit more attention were directed to them, and attention is our product. I hope that as soon as possible we can find a way to deliver messages that can contribute to a better world. If you have something worthy of attention, we want to be there and help.
How will your role continue in this regard, what would make you keep motivated and satisfied?
It would be great if we could achieve a new standard in the notification market, which means that notifications are not only seen as a technological tool, but rather an element of a completely thought-out process from A to Z, to define what should be sent as a notification, and what should and what should not be clicked. If the market adopts this mentality from us, then I would be happy that we were able to make the whole notification market a bit more sophisticated.